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Backbone One for iPhone Controller Review: Xbox in Your Pocket

Rating: 9/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $100
Person holding the Backbone controller in their hand
Justin Duino / Review Geek

If you enjoy the huge variety of games on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate but haven’t played on your iPhone via Xbox Cloud Gaming, you’re really missing out. The touchscreen options are okay, but if you bring a Backbone One controller along, you’ll have the full Xbox experience wherever you go.

Here's What We Like

  • Simple setup
  • Feels similar to an Xbox Wireless Controller
  • Giant compatible game library
  • Supports many cloud gaming platforms

And What We Don't

  • Must sign up for Backbone+ for free Xbox Game Pass Ultimate trial

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Plug and Play Mobile Gaming

Getting the Backbone One controller ready is as simple as pulling each side apart like an expandable shower curtain rod, placing your iPhone inside, and gently pushing the edges back together. iPhones can only go in one way as it needs to plug into the Lightning adapter attached to the right handle.

Your phone will instantly recognize the Backbone once you’ve downloaded its companion app, which is currently only available for iPhone (with an Android version and controller in production), and then you’ll be good to go.

Aside from mimicking the layout of an Xbox controller, the Backbone One also features a headphone jack, dedicated mute, gameplay recording, and Backbone+ buttons.

Speaking of Backbone+, the controller includes a free year of the company’s premium service, providing bonus perks such as cloud gaming trials like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Google Stadia, and the ability to stream your mobile games straight to Twitch. Just keep in mind that Backbone+ costs $49.99 per year after the initial trial runs out.

Backbone One controller for iPhone on table
Arnold Carreiro / Review Geek

Dedicated mobile gaming enthusiasts considering their own Backbone One should browse through Backbone’s comprehensive catalog to see if their favorite games will work with this controller.

Note: The Backbone One includes a special adapter for iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max models to accommodate its larger camera. This controller is compatible with everything that runs iOS 15 or later, from the iPhone 6s Plus to modern iPhone models.

The controller is not powered by an internal battery and instead pulls minimal amounts of power from your iPhone, so you can play for far longer than you may expect. This means you don’t have to spend time charging up another controller, and minimal power draw means you’ll hardly notice a difference in battery life—always a plus in my book.

Better yet, the Backbone One offers passthrough charging using a Lightning port found under the right handle so you don’t have to put the game down when your battery needs a fill-up.

Backbone playing Banjo-Kazooie
Arnold Carreiro / Review Geek

At 4.87 ounces heavy and 6.94-inches across when contracted, the Backbone One is a breeze to slip into a bag or even deep pockets and take with you on the go.

Familiar Feel for Xbox Fans

As someone who’s made Xbox his go-to console preference since 2002, I took to the Backbone’s familiar control scheme fairly quickly. The controls feel fluid and extremely similar to the Xbox Wireless Controller you may be used to. While I wasn’t able to play at the competitive level I’m used to with my Xbox Series S and 65-inch TV at first, I was able to pick up a few online wins in some of my favorite action-packed titles like Killer Instinct and Dead by Daylight right out of the box.

The controls are as comfortable as a classic Xbox controller overall, but fans of shooters like Halo Infinite, Gears of War 5, and Perfect Dark may notice that the Backbone’s left and right shoulder triggers are a little squishier than they’re used to.

It’s true that you won’t get the satisfying miniature click of shortened trigger locks as featured in pricier pro controllers, and the Backbone One admittedly has a signature marshmallow-like squishiness to its triggers, but the triggers are more than responsive enough for solo and co-op shooters. I personally believe that with a bit of practice, you could take the Backbone One and cloud gaming combo to high heights on the Xbox Live leaderboards.

It may be because I have an excellent internet connection in my office, but I noted that both fast-paced multiplayer experiences and laidback single-player games like Banjo-Kazooie and Jetpac Refuelled felt just as smooth and responsive when testing Xbox Cloud Gaming with the Backbone.

You’ll take to this Backbone controller like a fish to water if you play a lot of Xbox, but the one awkward change that may take some getting used to is the placement of the Menu and View buttons. This is far from a deal-breaker, and since the space where these two critical buttons would be is now filled by your iPhone, it’s clear that Backbone was forced to put them somewhere else.

It’ll take a few run-throughs to get over your muscle memory and relearn how to pause and start your games, but the Backbone is an otherwise all-around quality mobile option for Xbox players.

Another thing to note, just as you can connect a Wireless Xbox controller to your iPhone, you can also connect a Backbone controller to your Mac or PC with the help of a Lightning to USB cable. The setup isn’t the most ideal, but if you don’t want to own multiple controllers, this solution might be best for you.

Large Selection, but Some Games Are Missing

The Backbone One is compatible with over 900 games on the Apple App Store, but as mentioned above, you will still want to take a minute to double-check Backbone’s game list and ensure that your favorite titles will work with the controller.

Despite plenty of well-known App Store games like Among Us and VectorMan Classic working perfectly, mobile gamers who get a Backbone One without doing their research might be gravely disappointed that titles like Dead by Daylight Mobile and Pokémon Unite are partially or completely unplayable with this controller. Even if some of your all-time favorites aren’t supported, stay tuned to Backbone’s catalog as new games are added regularly.

Person playing a video game using the Backbone controller attached to an iPhone
Justin Duino / Review Geek

A key reason to adopt this mobile gaming controller is its impressive library of compatible games and platforms. I decided to get a feel for how the Backbone One worked as a replacement Xbox controller when paired with Game Pass Ultimate, but you can choose your preference from a list of apps like Google Stadia, Nvidia GeForce Now, Steam Link, Amazon Luna, and Apple Arcade.

Premium Xbox Cloud Gaming Controller

The Backbone One may not work with every game from your preferred digital app store or marketplace, but if you subscribe to a cloud gaming service like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, Google Stadia, or Amazon Luna, the versatility, impressively massive game catalog, and in-hand feel of the controller makes it a must-have for serious mobile gamers.

Rating: 9/10
Price: $100

Here’s What We Like

  • Simple setup
  • Feels similar to an Xbox Wireless Controller
  • Giant compatible game library
  • Supports many cloud gaming platforms

And What We Don't

  • Must sign up for Backbone+ for free Xbox Game Pass Ultimate trial

Arnold Carreiro Arnold Carreiro
Arnold B. Carreiro is a professional writer, author, and product reviewer who digs through the tsunami of new high-tech consumer goods to find the top picks so you don’t have to. His insight and comprehensive product reviews have been published at BestReviews, the Baltimore Post, and Chicago Tribune to name a few, but Review Geek is the best place to read his latest tech guides. Read Full Bio »